The comparative Anatomy of Hottentot women in Europe


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Hottentots are said to be the African women who were used by the European Scientists for comparative anatomy dissection. The encounter between these African women and the European Scientists begun in the second decade of 19th century when Henri de Blainville and Georges Cuvier met a lady by the name Bartman and described her for scientific circles both when she was alive and after her death (Gray, 2009). One of the key points in the reading is the importance of dissecting the bodies of African women by these scientists and the society which supported the same. The Europeans scientists wanted to examine the internal structure and the genitalia of the African women because they compared the women to the nature and the earth which needed to be explored, exploited and controlled. Then this would help them to compare the African women with other wild animals through their level of intelligence. From these comparative anatomic dissections, Cuvier created classifications and from that the views of gender, race and nation emerged.

Another important point in the reading is some of the outstanding features that led the European Scientists to preserve and use the body of Sarah Bartman for the interest of science. Bartman had some outstanding features that the scientists wanted to examine (Buikema, 2009). She is said to have been the only nonwhite woman in England whom people could see and thus her courage was outstanding. She was also an artist in the London entertainment scene with her show “the Venus of South America”. Bartman had exhibited some very enormous intelligence and excellent memory. The reading explains that Bartman spoke English, Dutch and a little French. She was aggressive and masculine. The superiority of the European women over the African women is also an observation to make in the reading. Bartman is said to be drunkard and masculine, the features that the European women did not have. She was intelligent and the Europeans scientists were working on their research to make sure that she is not seen to be superior than the Europeans. This lead scientist Cuvier to justify that Bartman was not a Hottentot but rather a Bush-woman. He further says that Bartman was very primitive of all humans and that she acted as the missing link between human and the apes.

The Khoikhoi and the Khoisan are known historically to be the races of south Africa who occupied the territories adjacent to the Cape of Good Hope. The two groups were renamed by the Dutch explorers as the Hottentots and the Bushmen respectively. Hottentots are said to have been nomadic and very rich with enormous flocks of heard (Gray, 2009). The Bushmen on the other hand are known to have been emaciated with diminutive stature who lived on hunting and gathering. Sarah Bartman is said to be a Hottentot lady. History has it that, the Hottentot ladies had large buttocks which was exhibited as a show of attraction. When Bartman was presenting in London the European are said to have wanted to touch her to confirm if the buttocks were real. Women of color have been misused and discriminated just like in the readings of pro-life politics, criminalization of abortion and the prison industrial complex, women of color are finding their pregnancies being criminalized and are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for drug use (Smith, 2005). In comparison to this reading, women of color were the targeted group for the scientific comparative anatomy as compared to any other race.

From the reading there are two questions that have emerged. Is it true that the European race is more superior than the people of color? Through Bartman outstanding features the reading can vividly answer this question. Another question would be; was Sarah Bartman a Bush-woman? Did she deserve what she went through in England? The scientist Cuvier well explains this.


Buikema, R. (2009). The arena of imaginings: Sarah Bartmann and the ethics of representation. Doing gender in media, Art and Culture, 70-84.

Gordon-Chipembere, N. (Ed.). (2011). Representation and Black Womanhood: The Legacy of Sarah Baartman. Springer.

Gray, S. (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. Research in African Literatures40(4), 210-212.

Smith, A. (2005). Beyond pro-choice versus pro-life: Women of color and reproductive justice. NWSA journal, 119-140.

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